Invasive Plant Threatens Pastures and Woods

​New growth on Chinese privet that is preparing to bloom. Note the opposing leaves. Photo by P. McDaniels, courtesy UTIA.


When asked to conjure the image of a weed in one's mind, many would quickly imagine small, leafy plants that invade gardens and landscaping. Few would think of a woody shrub that can reach towering heights of 30 feet. But to many farmers managing pastures in Tennessee, this weed—known commonly as Chinese privet—is very common on farms across the state. 
“Chinese privet is a woody and very invasive shrub native to China,” explains Neil Rhodes, Jr., University of Tennessee professor and Extension weed management specialist. “The plant was originally imported to the United States for ornamental purposes, but it has since escaped cultivation and is now causing problems in many pastures throughout the state.”
Rhodes says the plant can reach 30 feet in length, but is more commonly found at heights somewhere between five to 12 feet. Its leaves, often dark green, are about one inch wide and two inches long. The leaves are simple and form in pairs on opposite sides of the weed's branches. The plant blossoms with many fragrant white flowers from April to June. 
The primary reason this invasive plant is so problematic in pastures in Tennessee is its ability to spread rapidly. Rhodes says, "It can quickly displace native vegetation and dominate a large portion of a pasture." Because the plant can spread so quickly and individual weeds can grow so rapidly, it often creates unwanted shade in pastures, which further reduces the amount of desired grasses that can be grown. The seeds are spread by birds.
Unfortunately, total annihilation of the Chinese privet in pastures is not always possible, warns Rhodes. But, if the weed is identified early and opportunities are taken to prevent it from spreading, the weed can be managed. "Prevention through early identification and removal of initial invading plants is the most effective method of managing privet in pastures. Where already established plants are small, mowing will delay growth and reduce seed production."
If the infestation is too great to feasibly remove the plants, herbicides may be necessary to combat the weed. Before considering the use of any herbicide, be sure to thoroughly read the herbicide label and follow all directions and precautions. Rhodes suggests the online Extension resource for more information. 
You may also go online to and search “weeds,” or contact your local county UT Extension office. The publication Pasture Weed Fact Sheet: Chinese Privet (W 324) can be viewed directly at
UT Extension provides a gateway to the University of Tennessee as the outreach unit of the Institute of Agriculture. In cooperation with Tennessee State University, UT Extension works with farmers, families, youth and communities to improve lives by addressing problems and issue at the local, state and national levels.

The UT Institute of Agriculture provides instruction, research and outreach through the UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, the UT College of Veterinary Medicine, UT AgResearch, including its system of 10 research and education centers, and UT Extension offices in every county in the state.

Dr. G. Neil Rhodes, Professor of Plant Sciences, Extension Weed Management Specialist, 865-974-7324,